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November 14, 2006 Meeting Minutes
BETHLEHEM CITY COUNCIL MEETING
Town Hall – 10 East Church Street
Tuesday, November 14, 2006 – 9:00 PM – Town Hall
2. PLEDGE TO THE FLAG
3. ROLL CALL
President J. Michael Schweder called the meeting to order. Reverend Gordon B. Mowrer offered the invocation which was followed by the pledge to the flag. Present were Jean Belinski, Karen Dolan, Robert J. Donchez, Joseph F. Leeson, Jr., Gordon B. Mowrer, Magdalena F. Szabo and J. Michael Schweder, 7.
4. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR (For public comment on Resolution
to be voted on by Council this evening – 5 Minute Time
City Controller Candidate
Stephen Antalics, 737 Ridge Street, noting that a decision will be made this evening that will affect the welfare of the City, stated he has been impressed with the dedication of one of the candidates who he has seen consistently at City Council Meetings. Mr. Antalics added he has great respect for the individual, his intelligence, and his interest in the City. Mr. Antalics urged City Council to appoint William Scheirer as City Controller.
A. Letters of Interest – Filling Vacancy of City Controller
The Clerk read the names and addresses of 8 individuals who submitted letters of interest to fill the vacancy of City Controller, as a result of the death of Wallace J. DeCrosta, City Controller, as follows: Mr. Stephen J. Barron, Jr., 2239 Lincoln Street, Bethlehem PA 18017; Mr. Alan D. Blair, 746 Redfern Lane, Bethlehem, PA 18017; Mr. Robert W. Curzi, 2028 Country Place, Bethlehem PA 18018; Mr. Charles J. Miller, 220 Seventh Avenue, Bethlehem PA 18018; Mr. William K. Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, Bethlehem, PA 18018; Mr. Wayne S. Strader, 826 Maple Street, Bethlehem PA 18018; Mr. James W. Whittaker, P. O. Box 21256, Lehigh Valley, PA 18002-2156; and Ms. Rory L. Ford, 3890 Christian Springs Road, Bethlehem PA 18020 who was not eligible because she was not a City of Bethlehem resident.
Procedure - Filling Vacancy of City Controller
President Schweder announced the procedure for the meeting, as follows: Candidates will be recognized in alphabetical order. Each candidate will make a two to three minute presentation and consider specifically talking about what they would like to see being done in the Controller’s Office. Members of Council will have the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates. The President will ask Members of Council for nominations; a motion will be made to close nominations; the President will state the names of candidates who received nominations, which must be seconded; each Member of Council, as their name is called by the Clerk, will state the name of the candidate for whom they wish to vote; the Tally will be announced; and the Clerk will call the roll on the finalists. A minimum of four affirmative votes is required to elect an individual to the position of City Controller. If on the first or succeeding ballot no one has received the minimum number of four votes, then another vote will be taken and the candidate with the least number of votes will be removed from the ballot. Council will vote on the Resolution with the name of the finalist who will be elected City Controller.
6. PRESENTATIONS BY CANDIDATES AND INTERVIEWS
Stephen J. Barron, Jr., 2239 Lincoln Street, enumerated that he received a Bachelor’s Degree Cum Laude in Government and Politics from Wiedner University, and a Juris Doctorate from Wiedner University. Mr. Barron advised he manages the staff and operations of three group homes for which the yearly budget is about $1 million. Mr. Barron explained he works with local government, and is familiar with rules and regulations for managing public money. Mr. Barron continued on to say he emphasizes transparency and accountability in expending taxpayer money. Mr. Barron added he has been involved politically in the Lehigh Valley, in Delaware with the State Controller for the Democratic Party, and managing Senator Biden’s campaign funds. Mr. Barron informed the Members he has experience in managing money for the State of Delaware, under the State of Pennsylvania in his current position, and is charged to follow SEC regulations. Mr. Barron advised he has lengthy experience working under regulatory framework, and is committed towards ensuring transparency, efficiency, and accountability. Mr. Barron pointed out he works hard to be honest and fair in managing money, and promised to bring those value to the position if appointed. Mr. Barron stated he will work every day to make sure that the government functions in the best interest of the citizens who live in the City.
Ms. Dolan inquired if Mr. Barron is familiar with the software used in the Controller’s Office and if he has any thoughts on software upgrades.
Mr. Barron, affirming he is not familiar with the software, noted he would take an inventory, and if it were in the City’s best interests, he would look into purchasing software or hardware. Mr. Barron affirmed he was the manager of Wiedner University’s computer laboratory during the Y2K upgrades and is very familiar with various software packages, and would learn anything new.
Mr. Mowrer asked Mr. Barron to state two unique qualifications as reasons to appoint him Controller.
Mr. Barron explained that people around him tend to say he is a very inspiring person, he gives every day 110% and expects that of people around him. Mr. Barron emphasized he is a very trustworthy person, and people come to him often to speak to him confidentially or for advice.
Mr. Leeson, referring to the Third Class City Code provision that mandates the City Controller to sign all City contracts along with the Mayor and confers a policy oversight on contracting on the office of City Controller, asked if Mr. Barron would be willing to exercise that authority to make sure the City is getting the best value for the dollar.
Mr. Barron thought the act would implore him to exercise that duty to be a watchdog for City dollars and to make sure they are being spent in the most effective way. Otherwise, Mr. Barron observed it would be difficult to be a financial watchdog if one is not exercising that duty, and emphasized it would be something he would definitely do.
Mr. Leeson, pointing out that the individual appointed would get a lot of valuable experience and insight over the next 13 months, asked if Mr. Barron would be willing to run for the position of City Controller for a four year term.
Mr. Barron replied he has been considering a run in 2007 for a County-wide office, not knowing this opportunity would present itself. Mr. Barron affirmed he would most definitely be interested in running for the position if appointed, and added it would be a great advantage to know about and understand the position to hold the office if appointed now.
Mr. Donchez inquired how Mr. Barron views the role of City Controller and its relationship to the legislative and executive branches of government.
Mr. Barron, communicating it is the bridge between the two, explained if there is conflict the key players would need to sit down and negotiate, and make sure money is spent in the best interests of everyone.
President Schweder asked what Mr. Barron would envision his work schedule to be.
Mr. Barron, advising he is presently on call 24/7 365 days a year, except for 3 weekends a month, pointed out he is accountable for his job 24 hours a day. Mr. Barron stated he would envision that being much the same for the Controller’s position, and would envision the job not ending at the end of the work day.
President Schweder asked if Mr. Barron would work at the City Controller’s job full time.
Mr. Barron replied yes, and advised he would leave his current job.
Alan D. Blair, 746 Redfern Lane, noted he has been Deputy Controller for about two years, and has been working in the Controller’s Office for six years, previously as Internal Auditor. Mr. Blair explained he strongly believes he can make a positive contribution to the City if given the chance. Mr. Blair, highlighting the fact that some of the City’s current accounting policies and procedures need improvement, felt he has the responsibility to make sure that some of the improvements are implemented. Advising he wants to leave the job feeling productive knowing he has strengthened the Controller’s position, Mr. Blair felt if he were to serve as City Controller he would have a better chance for success. Mr. Blair, pointing out that some of the more obvious accounting functions of concern to him are cash handling policies and procedures, said he wants to make sure the possibility of fraud is minimized. Mr. Blair questioned whether there are the proper internal controls for the City’s new payroll system. Mr. Blair continued on to advise that employee backup is needed for the City’s payroll and accounts payable operations. Mr. Blair stated that employee vacation, sick, and personal days should be fully computerized instead of the current manual system. Mr. Blair explained he would investigate better ways to monitor and control City spending, and for the handling of City contracts and overspending. Mr. Blair, noting there are other concerns, asked Council for the opportunity to find, implement, and improve ways of doing things. Mr. Blair highlighted the fact that his entire 33 year career at Bethlehem Steel Corporation was in analytical accounting, improving operations, and continuous improvement as an objective. Mr. Blair informed the Members that based on his experience and his knowledge he feels he is very qualified for the position of City Controller.
Ms. Dolan asked if Mr. Blair has any specifics on changes he would like to make.
Mr. Blair, advising he was involved somewhat in the new payroll system, explained the office was not involved in trying to come up with the best system for the application that he thought represents a major area of improvement. In further response to Ms. Dolan, Mr. Blair commented it should not be scrapped but reworked. Mr. Blair explained there are no checks and balances in the payroll system. Turning to Ms. Dolan’s question about tracking employee absences, Mr. Blair thought something could be programmed in the current system to capture all the data.
Ms. Dolan questioned whether Mr. Blair made attempts to initiate improvements.
Mr. Blair, replying he did make attempts, acknowledged that in the position of Controller he would have more authority to make changes.
Mrs. Belinski asked if Mr. Blair would run for City Controller.
Mr. Blair responded he will not run next year for the City Controller position. Mr. Blair explained he is interested in doing the job within the next 13 months. Mr. Blair added he wants to contribute something to the City but has not had that opportunity.
Mr. Donchez inquired how Mr. Blair views the relationship between the Controller’s office and the legislative and executive branches of government.
Mr. Blair, noting they are independent, affirmed he would work with the Administration and City Council, present his viewpoints, and come up with solutions to problems.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Blair would be willing to exercise the authority of the City Controller to conduct oversight of City contracts as mandated under Third Class City Code.
Mr. Blair, replying yes, affirmed that is an important aspect of the Controller’s Office. He pointed out one of the areas on which he spent a lot of time during his career at Bethlehem Steel Corporation was making sure there was value for the dollars spent.
President Schweder, recounting that many responsibilities of the Controller’s Office over the years has been turned over to the Financial Services Bureau, inquired whether Mr. Blair will be willing to do what needs to be done to make the Controller’s Office an independent entity.
Mr. Blair replied he would talk to both sides and try to come up with a resolution. Mr. Blair continued on to acknowledge that massive changes will not occur overnight and he is not sure that can be done in a year. Mr. Blair affirmed he is willing to start the process.
Ms. Dolan asked if Mr. Blair would consider the position a full time job.
Mr. Blair responded yes.
Ms. Dolan noted the salary of City Controller is less than Mr. Blair’s present salary.
Mr. Blair, stating that is not a major concern to him, explained he is a motivated individual who needs challenges, and reiterated he wants to contribute.
Robert W. Curzi, 2028 Country Place, informed the Members he is a commercial banker. Mr. Curzi pointed out he has been known to be a consensus builder or calming influence. Mr. Curzi, advising he is willing to state this is the way it is and this is what needs to be done, expressed he can do it without raising ire. Mr. Curzi communicated he is able to compromise, talk to people, and bring people together. Mr. Curzi advised he is computer literate and has worked with many accounting systems, and would have to look into the City’s current system to determine if it needs to be changed.
President Schweder asked if Mr. Curzi would do the job full time.
Mr. Curzi replied yes.
President Schweder asked if Mr. Curzi would be a candidate for the City Controller’s position.
Mr. Curzi responded yes.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Curzi would be willing to exercise the authority of City Controller under Third Class City Code to conduct oversight of contracting.
Mr. Curzi replied yes.
Ms. Dolan queried how Mr. Curzi sees the transition from working for a company to being a more independent entity who needs to be a watchdog over a municipality.
Mr. Curzi explained in commercial loans he has to analyze customer statements and present or reject them, sometimes when they were referred by a company official. Mr. Curzi stated he has been doing auditing of commercial loan portfolios, and answers to the company’s examiners.
Ms. Dolan asked if Mr. Curzi works with accountant software.
Mr. Curzi, noting it is not accounting software, explained it is financial statement type software. In addition, Mr. Curzi advised he is on the finance committees of several community organizations including the YMCA, and is involved with reports.
Charles J. Miller, 220 Seventh Avenue, stated he was in government service for 35 years at the federal, state, and local levels, and over half of the time was spent in internal auditing. Mr. Miller advised his initial training was with the U. S. General Accounting Office, and was involved in financial performance audits, he drafted reports to congress, and prepared testimony on proposed legislation. Mr. Miller further advised he held auditing positions at the U. S. Department of Navy, New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, and Lehigh County Controller’s Office. Mr. Miller notified the Members he has performed countless audits, assured that cash was properly handled and accounted for, and ensured internal controls. Mr. Miller enumerated his audit activities such as municipal utility authority, municipal motor vehicle maintenance, housing code enforcement, and a golf course. Mr. Miller informed the Members he is a certified internal auditor. Mr. Miller stated he was the director of the Lehigh County Bureau of Collections, and retired from Lehigh County in March 2005. He works part-time as a revenue auditor for the City of Easton. Mr. Miller observed that the Controller pre-audits City expenditures and assures compliance with the City budget, and reviews the payroll. Mr. Miller felt the Controller should be doing much more, and stated it is essential that the City officials and the public know whether City services are being provided efficiently, effectively, economically, in compliance with laws and regulations, and whether programs are achieving objectives and outcomes. Mr. Miller stated if appointed he would ensure accountability.
Mr. Donchez asked Mr. Miller to expand on his comments about the City Controller as chief financial watchdog, and doing more.
Mr. Miller expressed his belief there should be more performance auditing, ensuring that programs are doing what they are intended to do, done efficiently and effectively, and the City is getting its money’s worth.
Mr. Donchez asked if Mr. Miller would run for the office of City Controller.
Mr. Miller replied if appointed yes he would.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Miller would be willing to exercise the authority of City Controller to conduct oversight of City contracting.
Mr. Miller responded yes he would.
Ms. Dolan inquired about Mr. Miller’s experience with software and any ideas for bringing the Controller’s office into the 21st century.
Mr. Miller replied it appears some auditing needs to be done, and a determination made about improvements in information technology. Mr. Miller stated over the past 20 years he has experience with Microsoft office.
President Schweder asked if Mr. Miller would be full time.
Mr. Miller replied yes.
Ms. Szabo queried if Mr. Miller would be willing to face the stress at times in trying to accomplish objectives.
Mr. Miller, replying yes, explained as director of the Lehigh County Bureau of Collections, he worked with elected officials, and has also worked with individuals who have gone through the criminal court system.
William K. Scheirer, 1890 Eaton Avenue, advised he studied and was an administrator of government contracts and became intimately familiar with justifications for no bid contracts, and conditions requiring competition. Mr. Scheirer, enumerating several priorities for the Controller’s Office, stated that data could be put together on overtime for budget deliberations, oversight of money handling procedures, computerization, and statistical analysis. Mr. Scheier said he would ask the Deputy Controller to remain and start on the things he wants to accomplish.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Scheirer would be willing to run for the four year City Controller position.
Mr. Scheirer replied yes.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Scheirer would be willing to exercise the authority to conduct oversight of public contracting.
Mr. Scheirer responded yes.
Mr. Donchez asked how Mr. Scheirer would view the role of the Controller and its relationship to the executive and legislative branches.
Mr. Scheirer replied cooperative. Mr. Scheirer said he could see regular reports to City Council, the Administration, press, and public, and that the agenda could include a Controller’s report.
Mr. Mowrer asked what are the two unique qualifications Mr. Scheirer brings.
Mr. Scheirer responded statistical background, and commitment to the City.
Ms. Dolan inquired if Mr. Scheirer has kept up with technological expertise in new software programs and systems.
Mr. Scheirer advised he has learned whatever he has needed to know, uses Lotus, learned machine language and symbolic machine language. Mr. Scheirer explained he would give preference to a modular system, and interface with the City’s system.
Ms. Dolan asked how Mr. Scheirer’s extensive experience in economics versus an accounting background would fulfill the Controller’s role.
Mr. Scheirer responded he has done a large amount of number crunching, and has a greater affinity for numbers than for words. Mr. Scheirer pointed out that economists use accounting and government data. Mr. Scheirer highlighted the fact that the system he devised for the small business innovation program involving government budget data is still in place today.
President Schweder asked if Mr. Scheirer would be full time.
Mr. Scheirer replied yes.
Wayne Strader, 826 Maple Street, informed the Members he is a CPA with over 16 years of experience in public practice and corporate accounting, has managed multiple client engagements and audit teams, and has overseen 17 separate corporate divisions. Mr. Strader advised he entered a company recovering from prior fraud, worked on implementing the control environment, and evaluating accounting systems. Mr. Strader said he is currently a small business owner, and it gives him an opportunity to bring his experience and background to the City Controller’s Office while still maintaining his client base. Mr. Strader notified the Members he is able to delve into various functional areas, has the ability to gather and analyze information based on the facts, and his ethical background. Mr. Strader explained he would evaluate the current processes in place, decide where improvements are needed, and develop a plan to implement changes.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Strader would be willing to run for the four year term.
Mr. Strader replied yes.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Strader would be willing to exercise the authority to conduct oversight of City contracting.
Mr. Strader responded yes.
Mr. Donchez asked if Mr. Strader would maintain his business while City Controller.
Mr. Strader responded that is correct.
President Schweder asked what Mr. Strader envisioned the workload relationship would be between the two positions.
Mr. Strader explained he controls the workload in his private practice, would look to the hours available, noted there are things that could be done offsite, and explained at the beginning there would be a lot of time taken in understanding the process, and afterwards he could devote more time back to his clients.
Ms. Dolan asked why Mr. Strader left to go into his private practice.
Mr. Strader advised he started to work in public accounting while a freshman in high school, always wanted to work with small business clients, and finally got to the point where he could realize his dream. As a result of reorganizing the regional structures of the company he was working for, four structures were reduced to three as part of cost reductions.
James W. Whittaker, 229 East Macada Road, listed four areas he felt were important to the questions raised. Mr. Whittaker informed the Members he was the controller of a public authority, and had full responsibility for accounting, payroll, budgeting, purchasing, inventory control, data processing, and office administration, and was part of the creation of the authority. Mr. Whittaker stated, in an earlier job, he was contract administrator for a subsidy program to keep subway services operating, and performed audits. Mr. Whittaker explained he reorganized a bankrupt bus company, that was the highest pressure job he had, and within a year and a half he managed the sale of the company. Mr. Whittaker, focusing on his dedication to public service, noted he saved the jobs of over 600 people.
Mr. Leeson asked Mr. Whittaker about his auditing experience.
Mr. Whittaker stated he was an auditor with the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, conducted field audits and internal auditing. Mr. Whittaker stated he received substantial training in auditing and became a certified fraud examiner in 2006. Mr. Whittaker highlighted the fact that he had to learn the computer systems of the companies he was auditing.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Whittaker would run for the four year term of Controller.
Mr. Whittaker replied yes.
Mr. Leeson asked if Mr. Whittaker would exercise the authority to conduct oversight of City contracting.
Mr. Whittaker replied yes.
Ms. Dolan asked if Mr. Whittaker is retired.
Mr. Whittaker replied yes, he retired last year.
Ms. Dolan asked if Mr. Whittaker would fulfill the position as a full time job.
Mr. Whittaker replied yes.
Ms. Dolan asked what new ideas Mr. Whittaker would bring to the Controller’s office.
Mr. Whittaker, noting he ran for the job nine years ago, advised he spent time with members of the Administration to learn about the office. Mr. Whittaker recounted he ran on the issue of the need for a modified accrual rather than a cash basis. Mr. Whittaker explained the need for purchase order procedures, and auditing of payroll.
Mr. Mowrer nominated Alan Blair, and Mr. Leeson seconded the nomination.
Ms. Szabo nominated William Scheirer, and Ms. Dolan seconded the nomination.
Mr. Leeson nominated Wayne Strader, and Mr. Donchez seconded the nomination.
Ms. Dolan nominated James Whittaker, and Mrs. Belinski seconded the nomination.
President Schweder nominated Charles Miller, and Ms. Dolan seconded the nomination.
Mr. Donchez and Ms. Dolan moved to close the nominations. Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
Mr. Mowrer said he was impressed with the number of individuals who applied, the interest people have in the community, and how they want to be a part of the community. Mr. Mowrer observed anyone on the list could be a good Controller. Mr. Mowrer, while noting he does not know Mr. Blair, stated he was impressed with the fact that Mr. Blair knows what is going on in the office, can do the work, and there will be little disruption. Mr. Mowrer added it will give someone from the outside an opportunity to go through the process to be an elected official. He further noted that, since Mr. Blair will not run for City Controller, he will be able to do what he thinks is right without worrying about being elected.
Mrs. Belinski stated she was impressed with Mr. Blair and his knowledge of the office, and expressed the hope that Mr. Blair would work hard on his ideas.
Mr. Leeson explained he is looking for a long term commitment from someone because it takes time to accomplish things in government. Mr. Leeson observed the problems cannot be solved in thirteen months. Mr. Leeson pointed out whoever is selected will have the unique opportunity to serve over the next thirteen months and to be a candidate for City Controller. Mr. Leeson advised he is also looking for someone who is up to date, has knowledge of accounting, computers, management, contracting, and has had major work responsibilities. Mr. Leeson, noting another preference would be to have a CPA in City government which would be an added value, said he will be voting for Wayne Strader.
Ms. Dolan expressed it almost feels like a job that is too important for Council to fill in the time period they have. Ms. Dolan, while agreeing that a CPA is the right person for the job, thought putting someone in the office gives them a significant advantage at election time and she would prefer to see a level playing field. Ms. Dolan explained she believes with the experience Mr. Blair has he would be a good interim Controller because that is what Council is here to appoint, and added he is competent, will do a good job, and is committed to the City. Ms. Dolan stated she will be voting for Mr. Blair.
Ms. Szabo, noting a lot of emphasis is being put on computers, stated no one is ever up to date because it is an on-going learning process, and did not think it should be a deciding factor.
VOTE ON NOMINEES – FIRST BALLOT
Voting for Mr. Blair: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, and Mr. Mowrer, 3.
Voting for Mr. Scheirer: Ms. Szabo and Mr. Schweder, 2.
Voting for Mr. Strader: Mr. Donchez and Mr. Leeson, 2.
VOTE ON NOMINEES – SECOND BALLOT
Voting for Mr. Blair: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Leeson, and Mr. Mowrer, 4.
Voting for Mr. Scheirer: Ms. Szabo and Mr. Schweder, 2.
Voting for Mr. Strader: Mr. Donchez, 1.
VOTE ON FINALIST
Mrs. Belinski and Mr. Donchez moved to elect Mr. Blair. Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The motion passed.
A. Filling Vacancy of City Controller
Mrs. Belinski and Ms. Dolan sponsored Resolution 14,943 by which, as a result of the death of Wallace J. DeCrosta, City Controller, Alan D. Blair was appointed to fill the vacancy of City Controller effective as of November 16, 2006 and who shall serve until a successor is elected and duly sworn into office on January 7, 2008. Voting AYE: Mrs. Belinski, Ms. Dolan, Mr. Donchez, Mr. Leeson, Mr. Mowrer, Ms. Szabo, and Mr. Schweder, 7. The Resolution passed.
Mr. Blair thanked everyone, and pointed out there are a lot of qualified candidates. Mr. Blair expressed that, based on his six years of experience, he can do some good for the short term basis. Mr. Blair commented he looks forward to working with City Council and the Administration to try to resolve some of the problems.
8. COURTESY OF THE FLOOR (For public comment on any subject – 5 Minute Time Limit)
Dana Grubb, 2420 Henderson Place, noted that the City Controller’s office is reliant on the City Administration for the system to perform the job. Mr. Grubb urged Council to support Mr. Blair’s requests and initiatives. Mr. Grubb felt the Controller’s Office needs to be insulated from the City Administration and Council in the role and functions of the Office. He thought that filling the position of Deputy Controller with one of the candidates for City Controller would provide for a seamless transition.
Dean Bruch, 555 Spring Street, questioned where was the oversight into the landfill sale situation. Mr. Bruch asked whether something will be put in place in the event something similar is encountered. Mr. Bruch thought it would be beneficial to the public to have the City Controller respond to questions when necessary.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:00 p.m.